I’m a synesthete. If you don’t know what that is, no worries—neither did I. It’s not quite on the level of, “I see dead people,” but I do see colors and interpret 3D, spacial relationships where others may not.

Growing up—and even well into adulthood—I thought everyone associated letters and numbers with specific colors, and/or perceived time in a spatial, 3D fashion.

Uhh, no.

These superpowers are a neurological condition known as synesthesia, and only about 2-4% of the human population make similar, unique and uncommon connections between normally un-related senses. I was pretty shocked to discover that 96% of the population wasn’t experiencing what I was.

This is a pretty good ballpark description of what I experience—from Wikipedia (Synesthesia):

In one common form of synesthesia, known as grapheme → color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored, while in ordinal linguistic personification, numbers, days of the week and months of the year evoke personalities. In spatial-sequence, or number form synesthesia, numbers, months of the year, and/or days of the week elicit precise locations in space (for example, 1980 may be “farther away” than 1990), or may have a (three-dimensional) view of a year as a map (clockwise or counterclockwise). Yet another recently identified type, visual motion → sound synesthesia, involves hearing sounds in response to visual motion and flicker. Over 60 types of synesthesia have been reported, but only a fraction have been evaluated by scientific research. Even within one type, synesthetic perceptions vary in intensity and people vary in awareness of their synesthetic perceptions.

These associations play a huge role in how I perceive and organize the universe around me and function every day—as soon as I meet someone and learn their name, they’re tagged with a custom color palette. Anything containing letters and numbers has a perceived color sensation, or an aura in my mind’s eye. If you ask me what I’m doing in the month of May, my mind’s eye zooms to a specific(always the same) position in space—viewing May in 3D. And other wild, weirdness. (Or what I thought was, 100% boring, normal for everyone.)

Science has only just scratched the surface of understanding these connections and how they work, or how-and-why they’ve subsisted throughout our evolution. I’m sure I’ve unknowingly met others who have some form of synesthesia—but I don’t know anyone personally who shares the same type of cross-wired sensations. If you have some form of synesthesia, I’d love to hear about your form of it and your experience(s).